Researchers at NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) posted a short video on their Facebook page, showing a “small, hovering mass of twisted strands of plasma” as it “shifted back and forth before erupting into space.”
You can see at least three giant solar tornadoes in the footage, which was captured on 29-30 April 2014. A silly disaster movie idea, but I imagine that any of these beasts could easily rip apart entire planets.
So what are we seeing, exactly? Scientists explain in the voice of the SDO probe:
The suspended plasma is being pulled and stretched by competing magnetic forces until something triggers the breakaway.
The plasma appears darker only because it is somewhat cooler than the surrounding material when viewed in extreme ultraviolet light.
This kind of activity is fairly common on the Sun, but we have only been able to view them at this level of detail since I began operations just four years ago.